Sunday, 22 July 2012

On the Rails

I've recently put up old-style picture rails in a large room at home, from which paintings can be hung using hooks and light chain. The idea is to have a flexible display area, where the choice of pictures can be easily changed.

Finding picture rail moulding locally wasn't easy. I searched in vain at all the usual lumber suppliers. Eventually it was recommended to me that I visit Hoffmeyer's Mill in Sebringville, Ontario. Problem solved! Hoffmeyer's, aka Ogilvie's Planing Mill Ltd., is a remarkable operation that specializes in making all kinds of reproduction old-fashioned wood products. Their main workshop still has many machines driven by belts connected to an overhead ceiling-mounted rotating shaft. Mr Ogilvie Sr himself made my picture rails, while I waited, by ripping a suitable portion of one of their standard mouldings, and then rounding off the top with a hand router. I took home forty feet of moulding, cut it to the right lengths for my various walls, painted these lengths, and secured them to the walls. For hooks I'm using small cabinet handles.

I have been hanging a few framed pictures from the picture rails, partly to get an idea of how well the picture rail system works, how easy it is to adjust the height, and so on. One picture in particular, a small landscape in oils, was in a rather distressed antique frame under very dirty glass. Thinking it could be much better presented, I decided to disassemble it.

The backing (two pieces of card) and the cardboard mat were in very poor shape, and a corner of the mat actually broke away as I lifted it from the frame. These materials are clearly very old, and much older than those I found in the frame I described in an earlier blog, the one we believe was donated to Ontario Ladies' College around 1930 (see Ontario Ladies' College).

My sister pointed out that it's reasonable to infer that the painting itself is particularly old, perhaps dating from Bertha's time in Owen Sound, before 1901. My sister had already suspected that Bertha's signature as it appears on this picture (all block capitals) is typical of her very early works.

If it is indeed as old as 1900, I wonder if it might have been framed (and signed) for purposes of the Exhibition that Bertha mounted at the Margaret Eaton School in 1906 (see A Private View). The list of titles from that Exhibition appears on the card we have. I believe that any one of several could conceivably refer to this painting.
Could it be Don Flats? Or Down by the River? Is it a Sunset? Or a Hazy Afternoon? Perhaps we'll never know for sure, but it feels like finding one more piece of the puzzle.

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